3 Life-Changing Truths from 3 Years of Minimalism

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, 2008, I became a minimalist. That was exactly three years ago.

My journey into minimalism was not entered into as a fad, experiment, or temporary life adjustment. Nor was it just for the purpose of moving, getting out of debt, traveling the world, quitting my job, or starting a blog. My decision to intentionally live with less was born out of my desire to line up my life’s energy with my heart’s deepest desires. It was about creating space for faith, family, and friends. It was always a decision that I knew would influence the rest of my life. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Over the past three years, we have removed 60-70% of our personal possessions, we have removed ourselves from the hollow race of American consumerism, and we have changed our habits of consumption. As a result, we have found more time for the things that are most important and have found more energy for pursuing our true passions. In many ways, we have been able to finally start living the life we always wanted to live.

This journey towards minimalism has been far more life-changing than I anticipated. The possessions in our lives define who we are on a far deeper level than we ever realize. And as a result, the process of removing them teaches us valuable truths about ourselves and about life.

As I ponder the past three years and all that I have learned, I think the following life-changing truths sum up most of my personal journey:

1. Life is best lived intentionally. I wasted too much of my life living on auto-pilot. I chased the same dreams that my friends and neighbors were chasing… without ever questioning if my heart had a better dream. I followed the advice that was fed to me millions and millions of times through television advertisements, billboards, and internet banners… without ever wondering why their products never quite fully satisfied. I compared my life to others using the same criteria that society encourages… without ever determining if the comparisons were adding anything to my soul. I never questioned the life I was living or the assumptions they were based upon.

But when I was introduced to the journey of minimalism, that started to change. I began to study the facets of my life with a new lens: where I was spending my money, where I was exerting my energy, and what I truly most valued in life. I was amazed – perhaps even saddened – to suddenly realize that I was wasting my life chasing full closets, but empty dreams.

Minimalism has brought newfound intentionality into my life. It has searched my heart and revealed motives that I didn’t know existed. I have become a better person over the past three years – sometimes through joy and sometimes through tears. But through it all, I have learned better what it means to live an intentional life.

2. Life is about the journey, not the destination. Dreams come and dreams go. Some dreams are realized… only to be replaced by bigger and better dreams. Other dreams are discarded… only to be replaced by different ones. It seems no matter what happens with your dreams, another one will always take its place. That’s just the nature of goals.

Over the past three years, I have learned that the richest joys in life are not found at the finish line. Instead, they are found in the journey towards the finish line. Whether studying a new subject, knitting a sweater, or minimizing possessions, those who cheat the process lose out in the end. There is much to be learned about ourselves during the short lives we live. And the truths that mean the most are only found through patience and perseverance.

Becoming minimalist has been a long journey for me (in some regards, I’ve got room left to go). But every time I push further down the trail, I discover something new about my soul. It is an emotional process to remove the weight of possessions from one’s life – far more emotional than I expected. There is joy and internal discovery in each step. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. And while there is a need for wisdom and discretion to choose the correct finish line to race towards… patience and perseverance is needed to appreciate the high’s and low’s of the journey towards it.

3. The life of minimalism needs to be shared. Surprisingly, I have found that the principles of minimalism resonate with most people. Most of us already know that possessions do not equal joy. It’s just that we’ve been told that deceptive lie so many times and from so many sources that we start to believe it without even noticing. And before we know it, we are accumulating more and more things hoping to satisfy the longing in our hearts.

Since becoming minimalist, I have had the opportunity to speak on the topic of simplicity in a variety of venues. And whether I am speaking at conferences, churches, public schools, or on the radio, I always enter with the mindset that I am on stage to simply remind the audience of what they already know to be true – that there is more joy to be found in owning less than can be found in owning more. And my hope is to simply invite them to embrace that truth.

This is a message that must be shared. Our world is drowning in debt, stress, and misplaced passion. I am beginning to structure my life in a way that will allow me to actively seek more opportunities to share this message of minimalism. And I hope you will do the same.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    I have found #2 to be surprisingly true in my own life as well. I guess I wasn’t really prepared for how much of a mental retraining minimalism was going to be. Like many people who choose minimalism, I got to a point of desperation by being strangled by my stuff. When I learned what minimalism was and jumped at it as my solution, I had no idea how it would mentally affect so many other things down the line.

    Thank you for continuing to spread the message of minimalism. You’re always inspirational to me.

  2. says

    Joshua,

    You outdid yourself with this one. Beautiful and simple. The internal process involved in going minimalist is where most of the real benefits lie. As we create an outer sanctuary for ourselves, we create an inner sanctuary as well.

  3. says

    I’m just getting into minimalism this year. I’ve set myself a goal to get rid of half of my possessions before I move later this summer. It’s not really about the move though – that’s just a deadline. I would have wanted to do it anyway. It’s forcing me to stretch myself and learn to trust that I’ll be okay without all this stuff, and I don’t need to keep a million things “just in case”. The exact amount of stuff I purge isn’t actually the important part – that’s just a benchmarker because it’s easier to measure. The important part, like you say, is the journey and what I learn along the way.

  4. Maria says

    Wow, amazingly put – thank you for writing that. #1 especially rang true for me – the part about following the dreams we’re programmed by society to follow, without ever questioning them.

    I also loved the phrase ‘I was wasting my life chasing full closets, but empty dreams’.

    It really is incredible how this path makes you appreciate simplicity in every form – and affects the most unexpected areas. For example, I’ve been annoyed with not being able to lose the 10-15 lbs that have crept up on me in the past 10 years. After becoming more mindful about food, and preferring it in its original state as much as possible, the extra weight has all but disappeared without me even trying.

    Anyway – look forward to continuing to follow your journey :)

    • Valerie says

      In the interest of simplicity, and strengthening my willpower, I decided the ONLY beverage I’m going to drink is water. No pop, coffee, oj, milk, beer – nothing but water. Now there’s no cans or bottles lying around, I’m saving money, losing weight! 2 months and counting…

  5. says

    Your second point… Life is a journey, not a destination… really stuck a chord with me.

    I always believed this, but it wasn’t until I completed my first Ironman race that it really sunk in for me. After training hard for three years and undergoing a spinal fusion surgery in the process, I had expected the finish of that race to be one of the greatest moments in my life. It was, but not nearly as I had expected. Crossing that finish line, as amazing an experience as it was, didn’t even come close in comparison to the memories of training with friends, early morning lake swims, riding my bike at sunrise, and the social aspect of the new sport I had taken up. It was definitely the journey that meant more to me than the finish.

    Since then I have realized that this philosophy applies to other areas of my life and not just triathlon. Thanks for reminding me of that today with this post.

  6. gak says

    I have always wondered about hte line of balance between living simply and not having possessions. How do you tread the line between, say investing for a better future without getting into too much debt and minimalism?. Does minimalism entail not investing because it implies contentment wiht what we have?

  7. says

    Beautifully said. Couldn’t agree more on #3… I’ve always been drawn minimalism, without even realising it, it’s only when I started reading more about it through blogs like yours that I have decided to embrace its philosophy to the full. In a way I’m at the beginning of my journey too, but I’ve started to blog about it as well, because minimalism makes so much sense to me that I get an overwhelming urge to write about it and share my thoughts with the cyberworld.

  8. Nicole says

    Here! Here! Very inspiring post. Minimalism for me has been like clearing away a fog clouded with advertising/consumerism and childhood expectations of adulthood. Just last week I have let go of my very ‘now’ white dinner plates and have replaced them with just the number we need and with plates from thrift shops that me and my two daughters think are beautiful. Now we have 8 eclectic dinner plates – all old and gorgeous in their own way. The added bonus they are all smaller than today’s dinner plates are too. Now that we have so much less stuff we are creating more beauty with what’s left.

    It is so simple and so fun. These things are more noticeable because there is less clutter to distract the eye and the mind, therefore more enjoyable. My plates (for example) are piled on top of each other on an open shelf next to the dining table. Easy to see, easy to reach, easy to replace (once washed OR broken) and easy to enjoy. They sit right next to my daughters’ delicate pink tea cups and saucers that they use every day after school. These replace the odd and sods cups and mugs that were in our cupboards.

    I could go on about the beauty that surrounds us now in our home but I will do you a favour and stop here!

  9. says

    Congratulations Joshua!

    Excellent thoughts once again. I love not just your achievement of scaling down your possessions, but seeing (and sharing with us) how it has deepened you spiritually.

  10. Jo says

    I was wondering how you managed to get rid of so much stuff. I’ve only ever given away stuff to charity and I went to my first car boot sale today. It sounds inhuman but I don’t really want to give everything away to charity and there’s only so much you can bring and sell at car boot sales. Internet sites I can’t do either- under 18 and P&P is too much hassle for my situation. Are there any other ways I can get rid of a great quantity of stuff and still get some sort of profit from it? I know the point of minimalism is not to gain physical things from it but it would be nice to get some cash for my things.

    • says

      Tough one Jo. I think you’ve already hit on the major ways that removed most of your belongings: Goodwill (charity), garage sales (boot sale), and internet sales (ebay, craigslist).

      You may try a consignment store if you have one available. If your goods are of a high enough quality, they will take them, sell them, and mail you a check. No hassle on your part, although you will receive a much smaller return on your sales.

      Best of luck.

    • says

      May I chip in Jo – I reckon you may be from the UK? All the ways you have suggested are the main ways of getting cash back for your stuff. I started minimalising over 2 years ago and I too have done ebay, car boots, charity bags etc… I am currently charting my final push on getting rid of stuff on my blog – I am putting a tally on how much I earn as I do it. My Hubby commented last night minimalisisng is a lot like losing weight/fat – weight from the house, a little at a time and you will get there! My suggestion to get some cash with less effort is recycling. You won’t get a fortune but will get something back. For example in the UK you can get cash back now on phones, devices, cameras etc… you can now also get it back on CD, DVD, Ganes. I won’t mention the recycler but they are advertising a lot on TV. The other area and this was a biggie for me was clothing. It’s hard to sell non branded clothing, and really hard to do it at a car boot when the wind is blowing everything everywhere! There are companies that take it by the bag load and pay by weight – they even collect. Great way to get rid of unsaleable or undonatable clothing/shoes. If you need the names of the companies drop me a mail – it can be found in my contact me section. Again won’t hijack this blog with my details. Good Luck

  11. laura m. says

    When I see people (adults) who appear to have too much stuff esp. nik naks, silk floral arrangements, paper clutter, (more than normal needs) I just assume they have ADD and/ or a very active social life. Clutter makes daily activities more stressful in general like being unable to find things fast, clean house faster, etc. I declutter 2-3 times a year room by room going from left to right, drawer to drawer, etc. Usually donate to local thrift shops or group homes.

  12. says

    Thanks for this post. I just happened to stumble upon your blog, and it looks really interesting. My family and I are in the process of simplifying our lives, and we’re not really sure where it will take us. But, stuff like this makes me excited for the time when we can look back and see how much we’ve grown through the process.

  13. Heather says

    I am just starting to understand the benefits of living minimally. A friend of mine set up a challenge for a group of us: 40 days of lent, 40 bags of stuff out of the house. I cannot tell you how liberating it felt to just keep filling bags with items that we either did not use, did not need, or felt that someone else could use more than us. And that was just the beginning of my journey. Thanks for the great article; it served as fuel to keep going.

  14. Billy Boucha says

    My mission to get rid of any many things as possible has come to an end (as of today) and still I find myself way off the mark. My target had been to own 21 things or less. I currently own 50 items, all of which are either very very important to me or I use daily. I have not included perishables in this list or anything with a sell-by date. Over the past month I have gotten rid of hundreds of books, DVDs and CDs as well as bags of clothes and trinkets – all of which were either passed on to friends or sent to charity shops. Although I tried to cheat by sending a bag of keepsakes to my mother’s attic for safe-keeping the universe obviously knew what i was upto and saw to it that my bag of keepsakes ended up being taken off with the recycling bins (one can only hope that my painful diaries from the years 16-25 made it all the way through the city council shredder without them becoming the focal point of a group of intrigued council workers who always wondered what women did in bed and what a mooncup is).

    Undertaking this mission has made me acutely aware of my relationship with things and with money. It’s made me question why I felt I needed to hold onto certain things and why I had at least 20 books on my shelf I’ve never read as well as over 30 DVD’s I’d never watch again.

    From now on I am going to be a one book woman – I will buy a book only when I have nothing to read and when i’m done with it, I will send it on its way.

    You will notice from the list that there is no mention of any cooking utensils or furniture – well, that is because I live in rented accommodation where most of this was supplied and I’ve recently sent my steamer and george forman, as well as about 12 teapots, off to the Cancer Society Shop. I’ve also gotten rid of all wall hangings, posters and postcards with a plan to fill my walls with new reminders of new adventures.

    The idea of getting rid of one’s belongings and going without comes from many religions and spiritual beliefs. While I have not followed the ascetic way of strict self-denial , I have undertaken this mission with a belief that it’s time to let go of old energies and allow space for new energies to come my way. So, here’s to a fresh start.

    I’ve cleared out all my belongings, closed down my old email account, got myself a new phone number and I’m good-to-go.

    Can anyone top my 50 things?

    My Belongings (11th June 2011)
    Roxy (my dog)
    TV (fancy 42inch present for my 30th birthday)
    Film Box (a hard drive with over 1,000 films on it)
    Laptop
    Phone (n96)
    Ipod touch (recently purchased…has made life a lot lovelier)
    Rucksack
    Hairbrush
    Batik my sister made (of a tiger..it’s beautiful)
    Elephant Plate (present my brother brought back from Africa after he climbed Kilimanjaro…very proud I am)
    Box of old random photographs (most of complete strangers)
    Photography book – Photographers take Portraits of their Families (moves me deeply every time I open it)
    Book I’m currently reading – Living Proof by Michael Gearin-Tosh
    Large Buddha statue (adds a sense of tranquility to my life)
    Book – Strangeland by Tracey Emin
    Book – Collection of Columns by Tracey Emin (keeping both of these because I find her very inspiring at the moment)
    Ring (from my mother)
    Ring (from my grandmother)
    Ring (from my sister)
    Financial folder
    Camcorder
    Hat (knitted by a lovely friend)
    Scarf (knitted by the same lovely friend)
    Top
    Top
    Top
    Jacket
    Jacket
    Hoodie
    Hoodie
    Tracksuit
    Runners
    Sandals
    Slippers
    1 complete set of underwear (7 knickers, 7 stockings, 3 bras)
    Pyjamas
    Pyjamas
    Set of towels
    Set of bedclothes
    Sunglasses
    Wallet
    Set of keys
    Picnic blanket
    Flask
    Vibrator
    Packet of 5 pens
    Packet of 5 copy-books

    Nearly forgot to mention these…whoops!

    48. Jeans
    49. Pants
    50. Yoga pants (no, I dont do yoga, but I love the pants)
    (read less)

    To follow my mission go to: http://www.facebook.com/pages/How-Many-Things-Do-You-Own/178429172215645

  15. says

    Our family has been minimizing for almost 3 years. Interestingly, it was a year after we returned from a mission trip to Africa. Talk about perspective! A place with no need for garbage disposal because there is not any waste. It has been a continued and joyful journey and process that lead us to a realignment of values that we didn’t expect by saying yes to helping others. We shop less, spend less, enjoy the empty spaces in our home. In fact, we would downsize in a minute if our housing market were better. We live more in the moment, take more walks and enjoy events that we didn’t ever have “time”to go do because we were maintaining stuff. With all that said, though, minimalism has also meant for us creating a home with color, textures, words, and scents that appeal to our senses senses and spirit. Yes, “stuff” still flows in, but the purchases are no longer random or done as a reaction to marketing or a bad day and the flow has eased to a trickle.
    Thanks for the great post. I check in often.

  16. says

    Thanks Joshua,
    I am new to the minimalistic implementation of conscious living. Your blog and these articles are like water for a thirsty life which is drowing in stuff. Your material provides great hope and inspiration to enter a new chapter of responsible living.
    peace

  17. Mari says

    When I started this journey towards a minimalist life style, I had some expectations. After reading and being inspired by stories about minimalism and simplicity like yours, I was anticipating a stronger focus on life and a calming serenity. I could not predict that my adventure would be more personal and more rewarding than I had ever expected.
    It seems that all the aspects of my life that I could not jumpstart before unexpectedly started to move in the right direction. Being more joyful and in the moment, losing weight, cooking and eating healthy, a better control on spending money, keeping a clean house, being more assertive about my values – all the essential parts of my life were set in motion.
    http://livingwithlessandless.blogspot.ca/2013/03/blog-post.html

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